charter schools

Charter schools in Memphis owe Shelby County Schools more than $1 million

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson aims to increase the district's four-year graduation rate from 75 percent to 90 percent by 2025.

Since 2009, actual charter school enrollment in Memphis has been below what the schools had projected before school started.

Those overly optimistic projections on the part of a few charter schools, and unpaid fees for utilities, rent, retirement, and other services on the part of a dozen more, mean Shelby County Schools is now owed more than $1.6 million by charter school operators.

Shelby County superintendent Dorsey Hopson II informed the district’s board during a work session last week that the district plans to ask the state for permission to collect that money back from charter schools in the city.

The W.E.B. Dubois Charter Consortium, run by former Memphis superintendent and mayor Willie Herenton, and City University, run by the Influence I Foundation, received money for hundreds of students who did not attend their schools. The two organizations owe the district a combined $867,000 due to the enrollment variance.

Last year, projected enrollment in charters in the district was 10,919, while only 8,769 students attended the publicly-funded, independently-run schools. In each of the previous three years, charter schools had overestimated on average by between 650 and 700 students.

The City Boys Prep, City University Girls Prep, Freedom Preparatory, Grizzlies Prep, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, MAHS Middle, MASE, the Memphis School of Excellence, Power Center Middle, Promise Academy, and Veritas charter schools also owe the district money, either for insurance, retirement, rent, or utilities.

The district plans to deduct a ninth of the fee owed to the district from each charter school in coming months in 2014.

According to the Commercial Appeal, Shelby County Schools has reached an agreement with former mayor Herenton’s schools to address the overprojected enrollment for last year, which includes a school for juvenile offenders at Northside High that closed midyear.

Approximately $78 million will be spent on charter schools this year to educate an estimated 11,824 students, according to projections. The district has approximately 111,000 students overall.

In addition to the $1.6 owed by district-sponsored charters, the state-run Achievement School District owes the school district approximately $703,000, for services including special education, alternative education, insurance, and transportation.

At last week’s board meeting, commissioner Chris Caldwell said there was an incentive for charter schools to inflate enrollment projections. Charter schools receive funding from the district for each child they’re projected to enroll. “I don’t think it’s unfair to make sure they make more accurate projections,” he said.

Board chair Kevin Woods said the district was considering creating a “compact” with its charter schools, which would encourage them to collaborate more with the district.

View the complete list of which schools owe the district money here.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”